Physically active words: Not the workout you may have expected



Shashi Tharoor's World of Words is a weekly column in which the politician, diplomat, writer and wordsmith par excellence dissects words and language

I am, I must confess, not the most physically energetic of men: I am much happier banging away on my keyboard than in pounding the pavement in a quest for physical exercise. Since this puts me at odds with the rest of the human race, particularly all the many members of my family who, out of genuine concern for my well-being, insist I must stir my increasingly well-padded frame out of my chair and onto a treadmill, I have a big problem. I have tried to overcome it by assuring my nearest and dearest that I am not as idle as they seem to think I am. There are, I tell them, a list of seriously strenuous activities that I undertake, albeit at my desk. The catch — and this I do not mention — is that they do not require much physical effort. But verbal calisthenics should not be sneezed at.

If there are any readers in need of similar excuses, I would be happy to share my justifications with them. It’s said that there is safety in numbers, after all, and the more of you who use the same ones, the greater the chance that some of us can get away with them! So here goes.

When I have to do some work, I tend to start dragging my heels before setting the ball rolling. When I am required to explain something, I often beat around the bush. (I know the cynics amongst you will ask, how many calories do dragging and beating burn? Depends on the weight you drag and how heavily you beat.) When I argue, I’m good at hitting the nail on the head, and I do like to jump to conclusions. Mind you, if the other person argues back, you can often see me climbing up the wall in exasperation. I am often going over the edge because of other people’s inadequacies.

I’m occasionally guilty of throwing my weight around. Sometimes, though, I swallow my pride and bend over backwards to accommodate them. Sometimes it’s true that I just pass the buck to someone else. Of course, I realise that amounts to pushing my luck, and it might not work. Sometimes, what I do amounts to opening a can of worms or adding fuel to the fire. And I have to admit to putting my foot in my mouth (though that’s quite a stretch!) and piling on the problems in the process. But these people who blame it all on me don’t realise how much effort it takes me to make mountains out of molehills. It’s not easy ploughing through my inbox and wading across the accumulated paperwork. After all, it’s me who has to be picking up the pieces afterwards.

I tend to walk my own path in life, though sometimes, if I see a good thing, I don’t hesitate to jump on the bandwagon. It’s not always easy balancing the books, and in the effort to do so I find I am often running around in circles. But I don’t spare any effort and can be seen pulling out all the stops in doing what needs to be done. When I finally manage to climb the ladder of success, though, I am not averse to blowing my own trumpet.

So, there’s the list of my strenuous desktop activities: dragging my heels, setting the ball rolling, beating around the bush, hitting the nail on the head, jumping to conclusions, climbing up the wall, going over the edge, throwing my weight around, swallowing my pride, bending over backwards, passing the buck, pushing my luck, opening a can of worms, adding fuel to the fire, putting my foot in my mouth, stretching a point, piling on the problems, making mountains out of molehills, ploughing through my inbox, wading across paperwork, picking up the pieces, walking my own path, jumping on the bandwagon, balancing the books, running around in circles, pulling out all the stops, climbing the ladder of success, and blowing my own trumpet.

This may not have been the kind of workout the more tireless amongst my well-wishers want me to do, but it’s hard work and I’d urge you all to exercise caution when undertaking them!

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